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What causes youth crime?

Media Release

24 April 1998

The latest issue in the Australian Institute of Criminology's Trends and Issues series confirms what many have suspected: child abuse and neglect are often the precursors to youth involvement in crime. "A growing body of research evidence drawn from studies of individual families suggests that economic and social stress exert their effects on crime by disrupting the parenting process", said Australian Institute of Criminology Director, Dr Adam Graycar.

The authors of Poverty, Parenting, Peers and Crime-Prone Neighbourhoods, (Australian Institute of Criminology, Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 85), Dr Don Weatherburn, Director, and Ms Bronwyn Lind, Deputy Director, at the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, examined the relationship between economic stress, child neglect/abuse and juvenile participation in crime by analysing 261 postcode areas in the urban areas of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.

Their paper discusses the effects of poverty, child-rearing and delinquency as well as the role of neighbourhoods in youth crime. Their analysis concludes that:

  • postcode areas with high levels of poverty tended to have significantly higher levels of parenting deficients such as child neglect;
  • there is a strong relationship between the level of child neglect/abuse in a postcode area and the level of juvenile participation in crime in that area;
  • economic and social stress exert most of their effects on crime, at least in urban areas, by increasing the risk of child neglect
  • juveniles rendered susceptible to involvement in crime by poor parenting are more likely to become involved in crime if they reside in "offender-prone" neighbourhoods than if they do not reside in such neighbourhoods.

What are the implications of these findings for crime control? "The research reported here points to the importance of increasing family supports and parenting skills as a means of reducing juvenile involvement in crime", said Dr Graycar.

The evidence in this report suggests that three of the most important ways of reducing the supply of motivated offenders are to:

  • reduce the level of economic stress;
  • prevent geographic concentration of poverty; and
  • introduce family and child support programs designed to prevent social and economic stress exerting disruptive effects on the parenting process.